I went to one of preview performances of The Revolutionists at the Main Street Theater last week. I was intrigued by the notion of a comedy about the women of the French Revolution. Now, The Revolutionists is not history as it was. Rather it is how playwright Lauren Gunderson imagines how it could have been if four key women of the French Revolution formed a sisterhood in 1793.
Four is, after all, a magical number for sisterhoods (think Sex and the City, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Girls, Little Women, etc.). Three of the women are based on historical figures. There’s Olympe De Gouges (played by Shannon Emerick), playwright and author of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen; Charlotte Corday (played by Molly Searcy), the assassin of the radical Jacobin Jean-Paul Marat; and Marie Antoinette (played by Bree Welch), the former Queen of France. The fourth woman, Marianne Angelle (played by Callina Situka), represents activists of the slave uprising in the French colony of Saint Domingue as the wife of Vincent Ogé, an early leader in the Haitian Revolution.
The four women struggle with their legacies during the Reign of Terror, but the looming presence of the guillotine is a constant reminder of the possible consequences of their actions.
While the subject matter is historical, The Revolutionists is filled with anachronisms. In that sense, it reminded me a lot of A Knight’s Tale. There are jokes to get an easy laugh, such as the multiple jokes regarding Les Misérables (which, of course, had nothing to do with the French Revolution but is a well-known musical about a rebellion in France). But, there’s also discussion of more serious subjects of politics, power, privilege, and women’s rights and how to best respond when things just aren’t going your way. That’s not an easy task during the Reign of Terror considering the threat of death. That’s why, as one character quips, it’s called the Reign of Terror, not the Reign of Agree-to-Disagree.